Mitt Romney was the run away winner of last night's Bloomberg/Washington Post GOP presidential primary debate in New Hampshire. The former Governor of Massachusetts, who received the endorsement of Republican big-hitter Chris Christie shortly before he went on air, looked confident and relaxed as he discussed the economy and his proposed response to the twin crises of soaring unemployment and stagnant growth.
In an attempt to win over the Republican right - without which he will probably not be able to secure the nomination - Romney said that, if elected to the White House next November, he would sack current Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and replace him with someone in the mould of Milton Freidman, the late doyen of free-market economic theory. He also repeated the charge that President Obama "lacks the necessary private sector experience" to get the American economy working again.
In contrast, Rick Perry - who was under a huge a amount of pressure to win the debate following the publication of a series of polls showing a steady decline in his support - put in a hopelessly amateurish performance, frequently stumbling over fairly basic economic points.
Worse still, on a tour of Dartmouth College after the debate the Texas Governor made the astonishing assertion that the American Revolution was "fought in the 16th Century". In a convoluted statement to a crowd of assembled students and press, he said:
Our Founding Fathers never meant for Washington, D.C. to be the fount of all wisdom. As a matter of fact, they were very much afraid of that because they'd just had this experience with this far-away government that had centralized thought-process and planning and what you have you. And then it was actually the reason that we fought the [American] Revolution in the 16th century -- was to get away from that kind of onerous crown, if you will.
Perry must avoid gaffes like this at all costs. Obama's campaign team is going to be relentless in its efforts to present the Republican nominee, whoever he or she is, as the natural successor to George W. Bush who, of course, had an unrivalled habit of committing exactly these sorts of spectacular historical and linguistic blunders.